By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
When he was first asked to speak to the Rotary Club about the differences between police work in Maitland versus Madison, Police Chief Gary Calhoun thought he would be a little hard pressed to come up with any significant differences. Madison and Maitland, a suburb lying just north of Orlando, seemed very similar at first glance, at least from a law enforcement perspective.
But as he thought about it more, he was able to see the differences as well as the larger similarities between the two towns.
Calhoun moved to Maitland in 1984, shortly after his 21st birthday, and spent the next 25 years with the police department, rising through the ranks. After his 25 years with the Maitland force, he and his wife wanted to find someplace where they could finish raising their children, someplace that didn’t have 17,000 people in one town and traffic so thick it took 45 minutes to drive nine miles.
Regarding the I-4 corridor that goes through Maitland, he asked the audience to imagine that instead of Base Street, there were a six-lane major highway with constant heavy traffic going right through the middle of downtown. In Madison, at least, the interstate is several miles out of town.
At first, the Calhouns worried about uprooting their teenagers, but found that their children adjusted to the new surroundings even better than they did. One of the younger children remarked that he felt more comfortable living in Madison. He recalled his wife’s surprise at seeing cows the first time she rode the bike trail north of town, and commented on seeing his first ballet and a troupe of Chinese acrobats (through the NFCC Artist Series) in a town that didn’t even have a Walmart, and meeting “Enos” (actor Sonny Shroyer, The Dukes of Hazzard) and “Spongebob” at events in Tallahassee.
There are of course, differences in the size of the police departments. In Maitland, there were 40 sworn officers and 10 civilians operating on a $4 million budget. In Madison, he operates with 15 sworn officers and one civilian, with an annual budget of $1 million.
“In a smaller department, we all wear a lot more hats,” he said. And in a town with a smaller population base, he and his officers deal with a lot of the same people over and over again, often wondering, “why is this guy out of jail again already?”
In Maitland, crimes tended to be a lot more “stranger-based,” while in Madison, where everybody knows everybody, it’s more common to discover that the people who burgled your house might be someone you know, or at least know about.
Also in a town where everyone knows everyone, he recalled his amazement when he would hear Capt. McGhee tell someone to “bring so-and-so to see me, or tell him I’ll come to his house with his mother and talk to him.” It almost never failed – the man would come in and talk to McGhee.
Still, the basic job is the same, and it’s not a job where one can get complacent. It’s still very dangerous. Nationwide, about 160 police officers die every year. Other occupations may have higher death rates, but murder is not often the manner of death. Also, the ugly side of human nature that police officers see can eventually take its toll.
On the plus side, “we get to go out and help people sometimes,” he said. “There’s nothing like it.”
“Think about the guys down there doing the job,” he said. “We ask for your support, and we ask for your prayers to keep them safe.”